The BJP’s fake news (fake?) meeting

Reuters published a very interesting report on February 2, entitled ‘Exclusive-In heated meeting, India seeks tougher action from U.S. tech giants on fake news’. Excerpt:

Indian officials have held heated discussions with Google, Twitter and Facebook for not proactively removing what they described as fake news on their platforms, sources told Reuters, the government’s latest altercation with Big Tech.

The officials, from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B), strongly criticised the companies and said their inaction on fake news was forcing the Indian government to order content takedowns, which in turn drew international criticism that authorities were suppressing free expression, two sources said.

I’d have thought any good-faith attempt to crack down on fake news on social media and news-aggregation platforms will inevitably crack down on right-wing content generation enterprises, including the BJP’s bot/troll armies, its ministers and ‘news’ outlets like The Daily GuardianOpIndia, etc. So BJP government officials getting worked up over this issue is insightful: contrary to what I thought was usually implied, the government honestly believes news that is at odds with its narratives is fake – or, knowing that Google, Facebook and Twitter will push back, this is the government’s ploy to be seen to be taking fake news on these platforms seriously without eventually having to do anything about it.

The government has an able collaborator in Google at least, whose executives had a solution for the government officials’ problem: reduce transparency.

Executives from Google told the I&B officials that one way to resolve that was for the ministry to avoid making takedown decisions public. The firms could work with the government and act on the alleged fake content, which could be a win-win for both sides, Google said, according to one of the sources.

Interestingly again, according to Reuters, officials “summarily rejected” this idea because the “takedowns also publicise how the companies weren’t doing enough to tackle fake news on their own”. This “heated exchange” sounds like the real win-win to me: the party comes off looking like a) it’s opposed to fake news and b) its social-media legions aren’t engaged in manufacturing fake news, while these ‘tech giants’ don’t alienate the political right and protect their profits.